Business & Economy

Cruise companies under US scrutiny after Omicron Covid outbreak

Miami, Dec 28 (EFE).- The latest wave of Covid-19 has sparked a large number of investigations of infection aboard cruise ships by US authorities, while some cruise companies are increasing health protection measures and limiting occupancy even more than had been the case in the hope that the new and highly contagious Omicron variant will be less deadly.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating the outbreaks in the past week on 68 cruise ships during the Christmas holidays, despite the fact that almost all crewmembers and passengers had been vaccinated.

Michael Bayley, the president of Royal Caribbean, which has halted taking new reservations for cruises departing in the first weeks of the new year due to Omicron, said that he hoped that this will be “the beginning of the end” of the virus and its ability to spread rapidly and be less harmful, “like the common cold,” provided that one is vaccinated against Covid.

As the authorities are trying to determine the aspects of the spread of this new coronavirus strain, the pandemic is continuing to ruin many travelers’ holiday plans, whether that is due to decisions by the cruise companies to cancel or reschedule cruises, travelers who are either infected or scared of becoming so canceling their cruise plans of governments, who have the last word in whether or not to allow cruise ships to dock at their ports.

On Sunday, the Carnival Freedom returned to Miami after being refused permission to dock at the Caribbean island of Bonaire due to a small outbreak of Covid on board.

That same day, the Odyssey of the Seas docked in Fort Lauderdale, just north of Miami, after about 50 passengers and crewmembers tested positive, despite the fact that 95 percent of everyone on board had been vaccinated.

The vessel owned by Royal Caribbean International cut short its trip to the Caribbean islands of Curacao and Aruba as a precaution.

Last Thursday, Holland America’s Koningsdam, which was going to make a stop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, had to return to San Diego, California, after Mexican authorities refused it permission to dock when about 20 of its crewmembers proved to be infected.

One day later, health authorities in Cartagena, Colombia, refused to allow passengers and crew to disembark from the Seven Seas Mariner, owned by Regent Seven Seas Cruises, after the captain reported seven positive cases on board.

That vessel set sail from Florida, where last Saturday coronavirus cases spiked with about 33,000 daily cases reported, the largest daily number registered in Florida since March 2020.

The number of investigations of cruise ships with infected passengers and crewmembers has shot up in the past week, according to figures updated on Monday by the CDC.

About 70 cruise vessels are on “yellow” alert since over the past seven days at least 0.1 percent of their passengers tested positive for Covid or showed symptoms of the disease, meaning that on a ship with 6,500 people on board at least 7 are suspected of having Covid.

This percentage includes the cases among passengers that have surfaced within the five days after they disembarked from their cruises, whereupon state and local health departments notified the CDC.

In like manner, this alert applies if one or several crewmembers are found to be infected or if the cruise company has failed in the past week to provide a daily report on infections.

Bayley said on his Facebook account that the investigations are both bad and good news. More and more reports, he said, are confirming what the firm is seeing on board its vessels, namely that although the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, vaccinated people do not seem to be getting very sick.

In that regard, he noted that the CDD has acknowledged that the Odyssey of the Seas, on which 55 people tested positive for Covid, has had no hospitalizations, medical evacuations, ventilator use or deaths due to Covid-19.

Bayley also said that with the new variant the positive test rates on some Royal Caribbean ships are about 1 percent, considerably below the US national average of about 15 percent in the past seven days and the positive test rates in the states where the firm has its biggest base ports: Florida, California and Texas.

To prevent the spread of the virus, Royal Caribbean has limited occupancy on board its vessels and last week stopped taking reservations for cruises scheduled to set sail before mid-January.

In addition, he announced as a temporary measures due to the Omicron variant reinstating the obligatory use of masks, a move also made by Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian, all of which are based in Miami, in enclosed spaces except when passengers are eating or drinking.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents 95 percent of all oceanic cruise companies, noted that the industry is leading the way with strict health and safety measures.

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